At Hone we have always been frustrated by the standard “design, bid, build” construction method. Too much money is wasted on designs that will never get built and there is too much antagonism between the team members leading to friction, waste, and less than optimal designs. Before we partnered up we spent years searching for reliable and similarly aligned partners who could help us to create the buildings we wanted to build. Eventually, we found each other and knew that once we created a project in the way we wanted to, we could never go back to the old industry standard. We have developed a road map that we use to get us from the initial spark of an idea to a warm, comfortable, and beautiful home. It is useful to think about this process as a large spiraling labyrinth. We will start with too many variables and competing tensions and as we have conversations and start making decisions we will slowly and in a sometimes maddeningly meandering fashion, spiral closer and closer to the finished project. Sometimes the decisions will seem almost arbitrary but it is the iterative process that contains the magic stuff which balances all of the competing tensions into a project that meets your goals and your budget and allows you to enjoy the adventure along the way.
It all starts with a conversation. When you reach out to us with a project, first we have a chat on the phone about your hopes and dreams. We talk about location, time frame, values, goals, aesthetics, and…wait for it…budget. We start talking about the budget from the very first conversation. This can be uncomfortable for some people. Much of the advice you will hear from your uncle who built a house once is that you have to keep that information secret in order to get the best deal you can. We can’t really think fully about your project without knowing what budget range we are looking to hit. Some people don’t know what their budget should be which is fine. We do the same thing either way which is talk about all of the factors that affect the budget. We work to differentiate between the fixed costs and the variable costs and try to let you know how you can affect the budget with the decisions you make. This is a good time for you to take a little time, think about all the things we talked about, have a heart to heart with your trusted confidants, and let the decision to proceed coalesce from the ether.
If you decide that you are ready to proceed we will write up a due diligence and schematic design agreement. It is hard for us to say exactly how much it will cost to design your home from the rambling and elusive scope conversations we have had to this point. We will come up with a realistic budget that will allow us to do research into the regulatory conditions and encumbrances your property may secretly harbor. We can provide a questionnaire about your patterns and habits and we will look at photos that inspire you. We look at sun and shade, prevailing winds, snow load, roads and traffic, neighbors, and potential development that could affect you. We synthesize all of this information into 2 or 3 concepts. These will be presented as rough floor plans and elevations as well as a narrative about what we perceive as the pros and cons of the different concepts. At this point, we will do an initial pricing exercise in order to offer you as much information as we can to help you start making some difficult decisions. This pricing will be rough and based on historical dollars per square foot averages for different areas of the building and for different levels of finish. Don’t get too attached to these numbers, they are most helpful in choosing between different options. It is also hard to accurately quantify all of the cascading ramifications of your decisions at this point. The best way to do this at this stage is, to be honest about your needs and your budget and allow your intuition to guide your decision making. As we fix more and more variables it will be easier for us to be more and more precise about the consequences of different options.
Once we have coalesced around a concept and preliminary budget we will be able to write an agreement that defines the cost and timeframe for the rest of the design of your home. We then proceed into the design development phase where we start to refine the designs and work out the details. We start to think about specific finishes, window and door manufacturers, featured stairs, timber and steel elements, and specific layouts of kitchen and bathrooms. We end up with a set of plans that is specific enough to allow us to get bids from subcontractors and suppliers as well as to allow us to estimate labor costs. We use the updated budget to check back in with you and the whole design team to make sure we are on track to deliver a design that meets your needs. If costs are ballooning, now is the time to change decisions or remove scope before we have completed the details needed for construction.
If the design and budget are approved for the design development phase we move on to construction documents. Now is the time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. We will continue to develop and refine the details to ensure that there as few surprises as possible when carpenters are on-site cutting wood. Many architecture firms will skimp on this phase of the design because many clients won’t see the value in it and many builders don’t pay attention to those details. We have a different philosophy. In order to successfully complete any sort of house, dozens of tradespeople all need to work in a coordinated fashion and this becomes much easier if they are all working from the same set of assumptions. The plans codify those assumptions for us and streamline the communication of our expectations for the work being completed. If our construction documents are to be able to fulfill that role they need to be complete and well-considered. It does us no good to have a detail that wasn’t thought through adequately enough to be relevant to the people on the ground. We keep open lines of communication between the designers and the builders so that if there is ever a question about how something should get done we get input from the folks who are doing the work. This gets investment from the tradespeople in the goals and methods described and it educates the designers as to the constraints we face when building actual assemblies out in the world. At the end of this phase, we are able to apply for building permits, complete a final budget and sign a contract knowing that the complicated details have been thought through, the budgetary sacrifices have been made and the expectations for the finished product have been clearly defined.
It is not until this point in the process that we start to realize your vision in concrete, steel, glass, and wood. You can expect to receive a detailed schedule that illuminates the “critical path” or the milestones that need to be met to maintain the schedule. You can expect weekly meetings where we chat about progress, obstacles, finish decisions, and any changes that are necessary. Every month, with your bill you will receive a detailed job tracking spreadsheet that contains all the line items in your budget along with the amounts spent to date and balance left. Every month we look at how much work is complete and how much budget has been spent to make sure that we are on track and if we aren’t there is plenty of time to alter the course. At a couple of key points in the process, we will do a detailed walkthrough where we discuss fixture placement, switching, cabinets, and floor finishes. Sometimes there is no substitute for being in the space. We can tailor our construction administration services to your needs and your comfort in making the thousands of decisions that are required. We always help with the design of cabinets and trim as well as the countertops and floor finishes. We can also help with tile, fixture, and color choices if that is helpful.
At the end, when all the doors are adjusted and paint touch-ups are complete we will have a professional cleaner vacuum, mop, dust, and wash the windows inside and out to make sure that when you move in you are starting fresh. As you live in the house you will inevitably find a few touch-ups and adjustments that we missed. We like you to live there for a couple of weeks before we come back to ensure that you have time to discover everything that needs attention. We hope that after a little time has past and the landscaping starts to green up and fill in we will be able to come back and get your house professionally photographed which creates a necessary record for us and allows future clients to see how your decisions came together.
It is a big decision and a perilous journey to build a custom home. We believe that our process is the best way to get you the house that meets your goals and your budget while wasting a minimum of time and money on design dead ends and construction mistakes. If this appeals to you please don’t hesitate to reach out to us no matter how large or small or crazy your dreams are. It all starts with a conversation.